Blue Mountains City Council has upped the ante in the fight against the NSW Government planning system by unanimously voting for a “formal exemption” to the “one-size fits all” approach.
Deputy Mayor Mark Greenhill said a review into the Blue Mountains Local Environment Plan (LEP) by the NSW Planning Agency was a “major threat to the environmental protections and anti-overdevelopment rules that had protected the Mountains for years”.
“When I was first elected (in 1999) each council meeting was basically a battle between the developers and those of us who want to preserve our local amenity,” he said.
“It seemed that at almost every meeting we were battling applications for high and medium density proposals right across the Mountains. These applications would have changed the face of this world heritage city within a national park had they succeeded. One of the things that kept the developers at bay was our local environment plan, which we developed after long and careful consultation going village to village.”
Council officers had used the LEP to preserve the Mountains — a tourist destination for millions, he said.
“Bureaucrats from the planning department in Sydney have been seeking to remove our LEP and replace it with a one-size fits all LEP that could equally apply in built-up parts of Sydney as in the Blue Mountains,” Clr Greenhill said.
“We’re seeking a formal exemption. We are not Blacktown or Liverpool. We are unique.”
Blue Mountains council had taken “bipartisan approach” to the issue “to avoid a string of McDonalds restaurants up the Mountains”, he added.
Liberal councillor Chris Van der Kley echoed the Labor councillor’s concerns adding the issue was “bigger than Ben Hur”.
The matter was passed unanimously during a ‘mayoral minute’ at the last council meeting
Mountains environmentalists have also expressed grave concerns about the planning overhaul.
Blue Mountains Conservation Society vice-president Tara Cameron said the new planning system will be based on “economic growth and development at the expense of all else”.
“It is a system that makes it easy for developers and landowners to do whatever they want on their land but which simultaneously removes any consideration for impacts on the broader public, neighbours, residents and the environment. There is no balance,” said Ms Cameron.
“Every piece of work that has been done by Blue Mountains City Council and the community to manage and protect the highly sensitive world heritage-listed Blue Mountains environment, to retain residential amenity and to ensure that development occurs in an orderly fashion will be removed.”
If implemented, she said the current local planning system will be replaced by a “State-driven standardised and code-based format with on-line tick-box 10-day approvals for 85 per cent of all development”.
The O’Farrell Government’s new planning system will be in draft legislation form by the end of this year. Clr Greenhill said he was, however, heartened by a recent exchange between former Mountains mayor and now NSW Upper House MP Adam Searle, and the Planning Minister Brad Hazard when Mr Hazard said he “would make some inquiries” based on previous agreements with former Liberal planning ministers.
“It gives me some hope,” Clr Greenhill said.